The Simple Intimacy of Silence

Silence, I have found, is intimate; in day-to-day life, silence presents me a unique opportunity: the chance to be personally intimate with myself. Silence offers a space for personal reflection, for deeper understandings, and for the advancement of the imagination. While reading the excerpt from Jorge Luis Borges’s essay “On the Cult of Books,” I found the same to be true: silence, and reading in silence, allowed me to perceive the text better, to understand the words being said in a much deeper sense. And on a less scholarly front, I was able to read and understand without consideration for pronunciation; if I skipped over a word or a name I couldn’t immediately pronounce, the action didn’t impede my understanding or slow my progress.

This tendency to read in silence as a means to foster deeper understanding has been documented throughout history; in an excerpt from the historian Roger Chartier’s book A History of Private Life, Volume III: Passions of the Renaissance, this sentiment is communicated, as silent reading is described as offering “immediate internalization of what the reader read” (Chartier).

In reading aloud, however, I found myself focusing more on the pronunciations of the words I was reading than the content itself. Words and names that I did not immediately know how to pronounce halted my progress, and I found that I was reading faster internally than I could keep up with while speaking. And, quite frankly, reading aloud makes my throat feel sore. St. Ambrose, in St. Augustine’s descriptions as quoted by Borges in his essay, seems to mirror my own qualms with reading aloud. As St. Augustine describes, St. Ambrose “would get through fewer books than he wished” if he committed to reading aloud rather than silently, and the process of reading silently could allow him to “preserve his voice” in ways that reading aloud does not permit (Borges 360). Chartier expresses a similar sentiment, claiming that “Reading aloud was slow, laborious, and externalized; silent reading was faster, easier, and more immediate in its impact on the inner self,” a statement that I would expect St. Ambrose to agree with (Chartier).

Though I still prefer silence, I cannot deny that reading aloud did encourage me to consider the inflection of the words I was reading and the impact that inflection has on the content of the text more than I would while reading silently. Reading aloud and adding appropriate inflection, then, does lend a sense of power to the words that isn’t present while reading silently, and there are some works—very many, actually—that deserve to have such power rooted in their words, from a child’s bedtime story to a preacher’s Gospel.

Works Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358-363.

Chartier, Roger. “The Practical Impact of Writing.” A History of Private Life, Volume III: Passions of the Renaissance. Harvard University Press, 1993, Accessed 7 Sept. 2021.

5 thoughts on “The Simple Intimacy of Silence”

  1. I really agree with you regarding the dimensions of reading silently and aloud, and I, too, prefer to read silently. It seems to me that reading silently and aloud are each best in different contexts (reading aloud in religious services, for instance, and reading silently for academic works). However, we often rigidly adhere to our conventional ideas about reading and what it should entail into, and it does seem useful – and jarring – to step outside of these narrow confines, as you explain here.

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  2. I have a lot of the same complaints about reading out loud; it certainly is a different experience from reading silently. I remember a conversation I had with a friend about the ability to imagine voices– when reading silently, it’s a little hard to imagine what the words could sound like. I think one of the fun characteristics of reading aloud is the ability to use voice– or inflection, or tone– to strengthen or embellish the meaning of the words (or even just to give characters funny accents).

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  3. As expressed in my own post, I share a lot of your opinions about silent reading. It’s just more comfortable for me to be in my own head rather than exposing my voice to be overheard. I find it so interesting that reading aloud is such a different experience than reading silently- that a change in the way you read makes all the difference.

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  4. I really admire the appreciation you have for silence. It is really hard for me to be alone or in silence for long so this exercise was a little challenging for me. You were able to pin point the importance and benefits of reflecting on the comparison between reading in silence and reading out loud. I also was able to focus more in the reading when I read it out loud, something that may be beneficial in the future….

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  5. I really agree with your view on silence, your idea of “intimacy” in silence. In today’s world, let’s face it, silence is a commodity some people don’t have access too. To have silence is to have a pseudo version of peace, or an idea of peace we’ve been presented with. Some of us literally do not have a choice of silence or otherwise, so to have those quiet moments all to yourself, to make your own decisions of what to do *with* that silent time, its truly a super power.

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